Where are the Catholic intellectuals?

Lamenting the state of Catholic philosophy

Where are the Catholic intellectuals? Believe it or not, I was just wondering the exact same thing when I came across this article.

Read it all. It starts with a paragraph on how English and French societies view the word, then moves on to a rather well put argument regarding books, authors, and Catholic moral thinkers:

This dearth of Catholic thinkers, whether they are theologians or philosophers, is not limited to France. Catholic intellectuals seem to be a vanishing breed on the wider international scene. The second World Congress of the International Conference of Catholic Faculties of Philosophy, which took place in Mexico last September, took for its theme “Philosophy as mediation”. This meeting of representatives of more than 60 Catholic faculties of philosophy asked the same question: does the Catholic Church still have intellectuals and philosophers of the stature of Blondel or Maritain?

Faced with the challenge of secularisation and technology based on purely rational premises, the philosophers present stressed the need to assert their Catholic identity, while maintaining a critical yet benevolent dialogue with the philosophical community at large. Not only did they reject the temptation to isolate themselves within a specifically Christian, and therefore marginal, exclusivism, but spoke out in favour of joining forces with non-Christian philosophers in analysing such thorny questions as bioethics or globalisation. Refusing to remain on the defensive, they wished to prove that Christian wisdom is capable of meeting the most difficult challenges.

So where are we? Are we “underground” as the UK Tablet hopes?

I tend to think that we (and I only use the word “we” with the assumption that I am a student of both Catholicity and philosophy and therefore a member of the club) simply don’t have a soapbox – at least in America. Sure we have journals such as First Things and New Oxford Review, but those journals only illustrate the stratosphere of Catholic thought.

Where is there an outlet for Catholic intellectualism in the community, where the societal conversation must be held?

Is there an answer? Perhaps we simply have retreated from the public square over the years? Maybe the information age of the Internet will provide a different way of re-engaging the debate?

I tend to believe that the problem is twofold. Firstly, quality Catholic intellectuals tend to stem from either periods of great strain upon the Church or highly faithful Catholic societies and institutions providing the breeding ground for such activity. Second, the secular death grip on Western culture at large tends to shy away from any input from religious authorities – Catholics in particular.

The Catholic intellectual simply isn’t given a voice, much less a seat at the table. It’s a double strike against (1) our Catholicity and (2) secularists deeming our status of “intellectual” highly suspect given our faith. The problem is only more complicated when we consider what precisely constitutes a religion nowadays, as well as a secular belief that faith taints objective reasoning, as if secular humanism were the only non-judgmental Weltanshung.

How do we solve this? It’s tricky. Orthodox Catholics tend to look towards authority rather than each other for inspiration. In a climate where bad priests run amok and good priests are overworked, the laity may very well have to embrace the idea they are quite alone in fighting the culture war on the ground. The Second Vatican Council points the way, but we have to have the courage to follow it as faithful Catholics. Tough thing for Catholic Americans to do.

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